Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Don Black
Director: Paul Foster
Tell Me On A Sunday works contrary to the perception that the appeal of musicals lies in their being a representation of the glitz and glamour of showbiz. It is a simple one-act musical with a sole performer and sparse backing from a four-piece band.
Emma (sole performer Jodie Prenger) is a Brit living in the USA pursuing her Green Card and looking for love. The latter quest takes her through a series of liaisons with men who turn out to be unsuitable due to being unfaithful, too young or married.
It is easy to see how the show would attract an artist of Jodie Prenger’s calibre. Solo performances are always daunting, and this is multiplied in the case of a musical which does not feature a chorus or supporting cast to cover up potential errors. Prenger rises to the challenge with a faultless performance and gives Emma a degree of self-awareness. She creates the impression of a character who knows upon entering a relationship there is a good chance of failure but has a resilience that compels her to keep trying. Prenger brings a wry sense of humour to the role seeming to poke fun at herself as much as at American habits.
Tell Me On A Sunday does, however, feel dated. The central concept – a woman trying to find fulfilment by securing a suitable man – is well past its sell-by date. It is just as well Prenger has a strong personality because Emma has none; all we know about her is that she has loving parents and is looking for love, no details are given of her career or interests.
The score is restrained, and intimate and Don Black’s lyrics are conversational; perfect for what is essentially a musical monologue. It makes for a laid-back evening, which is unusual for a theatre format that often relies upon rousing musical anthems as a measure of success. Only a recurring pair of numbers, in which Emma confronts her unfaithful lovers and the person who made her aware of their deception, come close to being traditional showstoppers.
Director Paul Fosteradheres to the simplicity of the show’s format. David Woodhead’s set is a basic office/living room backed by an illuminated New York skyline and costume changes, and associated distractions, are kept to a minimum.
The structure of the current production is downright odd. Tell Me On A Sunday originated as a TV special and previous productions compensated for its brevity by making it part of a double bill. The current tour, however, uses the second act as a question-and-answer session with Prenger who, along with understudy Jodie Beth Meyer, also performs a couple of other songs to a simple piano backing.
The success of such an unusual approach is entirely due to Prenger’s down- to-earth personality. Bouncing back on stage belting out Lionel Bart’s Oom-Pah-Pah she transforms the second act into a sing-along down the pub; raising the house lights and chatting as if to old friends.
This highlights the vocal talents of Prenger and Meyer and gives the rare chance to hear Lloyd Webber’s songs in a raw format but there is no disguising the thinness of the second act. The questions are hardly demanding, and its brevity makes it more like an encore than a full second half.
The current version of Tell Me On A Sunday showcases the blazing talent of Jodie Prenger but the unusual format feels like a show that builds to an anti-climax.
Runs until 23rd October 2021 – Continues on UK Tour after